Behind the Scenes Look: Utilizing Technology for Successful Surveillance & Disease Testing

VDCI lab testing vial mosquito control education

Behind the Scenes Look: Utilizing Technology for Successful Surveillance & Disease Testing

Responsible mosquito management involves targeting mosquitoes at all stages of their lifecycle. A holistic, integrated approach is the most effective strategy to halt population growth and prevent the spread of deadly diseases while reducing environmental footprint.

surveillance and disease testing

Surveillance is the cornerstone of an integrated mosquito management (IMM) program. This begins with assessing breeding sites and eliminating mosquitoes at the larval stage. By analyzing population dynamics and species distribution, adult mosquitoes can be safely and effectively controlled. Proactive surveillance and data collection also allow scientists to optimize the use of insecticides and limit spraying to specific areas at precise times. These techniques reduce the chance of insecticide resistance, which can create additional challenges and expenses for stakeholders.

mosquito lab testing collecting dataHighly targeted, carefully formulated insecticides are used by experts to safely control mosquitoes and mitigate the risk of vector-borne disease transmission. Though insecticides are an impactful tool in mosquito management, it’s possible for mosquitoes to become resistant to them. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) if mortality drops to a rate of less than 90%, the mosquito population is considered insecticide resistant.

Insecticide resistance typically occurs during prolonged exposure to insecticides used during the management process. Continued use in moderately susceptible populations can result in the selection of resistant individuals and loss of insecticide sensitivity in certain areas—something that is particularly dangerous during large mosquito outbreaks following rainstorms, hurricanes, and other serious weather events. Insecticide resistance not only contributes to wasted time and resources but it also endangers communities through increased disease transmission.

mosquito lab testingThe best way to prevent insecticide resistance is ongoing monitoring. IMM programs incorporate strategic monitoring efforts throughout the management season to gather information about species bionomics, active periods, host preferences, and the presence of disease. This knowledge about local mosquito populations is used to determine the severity of a nuisance outbreak and inform control efforts. 

Scientists have multiple ways to collect information. Each method is selected based on the unique challenges a community is facing.

mosquito trapsCDC Light Traps

These light traps, which were developed by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, are considered the industry standard for mosquito surveillance and collection. Like the New Jersey light trap, it attracts many different species, but it is portable. A 6V battery powers a motorized fan that circulates carbon dioxide (CO2) as an attractant. Once they enter the trap, mosquitoes are sucked into a collection device. CDC traps are most effective when deployed at dawn and dusk when mosquitoes are most active.

mosquito trapsBG-Sentinel Trap

This trap is designed to capture Aedes albopictus (Asian Tiger mosquito) and Aedes aegypti (Yellow Fever mosquito), each of which are known to carry diseases, including Dengue, Chikungunya, Zika virus, and Yellow Fever. Both species thrive in urban environments where they can breed in natural and artificial containers such as gutters, bird baths, watering cans, and outdoor equipment. The BG-Sentinel trap, which is made of a tarp-like material, utilizes an attractant to lure mosquitoes into a funnel. The funnel is outfitted with an electric fan that pulls them into a net where they will remain until collection.

mosquito trapsGravid Trap

Gravid traps are designed to catch Culex mosquitoes, such as Culex tarsalis or Culex pipiens. These species are capable of spreading West Nile virus, St. Louis Encephalitis, and both Western and Eastern Equine Encephalitis. Each trap is filled with stagnant water containing organic matter like grass or hay to mimic natural breeding grounds. As Culex mosquitoes approach, they are sucked by an electric fan into the trap for future collection.

mosquito trapsNew Jersey Light Trap

The New Jersey light trap is effective at capturing a wide spectrum of mosquito species. It is typically used as a permanent device that’s mounted and powered by an outlet in target areas. The New Jersey light trap is a beneficial tool to support IMM programs—it is capable of collecting large quantities of local mosquitoes for scientific analysis and data collection. 

PCR Tests 

Clinical tests are commonly used in the industry to identify diseases. PCR tests, for example, allow laboratory technicians to detect different bacteria or viruses that have been transmitted by mosquitoes. Though PCR tests are also used to detect Covid-19, it’s important to note that mosquitoes do not spread the SARS-CoV-2 virus.

RAMP® WNv Tests

RAMP tests are also widely used in the industry. This highly-sensitive test is designed to detect West Nile virus in mosquitoes. A RAMP test can be conducted quickly and efficiently in-house, making it particularly useful following hurricanes and weather events.

lab testing

CDC Bottle Bioassay

One of the most important tools when monitoring for insecticide resistance is the CDC Bottle Bioassay. As part of the testing process, bottles are coated with a diluted pesticide solution and then paired with a control group. Female adult mosquitoes are deposited into each bottle, where they are exposed to stressful conditions. Mortality data is then collected and analyzed by scientists for evidence of insecticide resistance. 

Larval Cup Bioassay

Larvicides are central to proactive mosquito management programs, and resistance is less common; however, it can still occur. Larval control agents work through either ingestion or contact with the target host, depending on the product used. Like the bottle bioassay process, cups are coated with bacterial larvicides like Bacillus thuringiensis israliensis (Bti), Bacillus sphaericus (Bs), or Spinosad and examined for mortality data. 

insecticide resistance - bottle assay

Modern GPS/GIS technologies have made it possible to gather large amounts of data for site mapping, disease tracking, and analysis. This information can be compared over time to identify trends or patterns that help advise the direction of management programs and ensure ongoing compliance with regulatory standards. 

Now, GPS technologies are being integrated into advanced aerial equipment. VDCI’s state of the art drones give technicians a birds-eye-view of target sites for more streamlined site surveillance and mapping, as well as more precise pesticide applications. Likewise, advanced drones allow experts to observe and treat areas that are dangerous, like swamps and wetlands, or more private, like HOAs and other large communities.

drone surveillance

Scientists have many advanced tools at their disposal for trapping, species identification, and disease testing, but the most valuable approach is preventative management. Proactive surveillance, monitoring, communication, and stakeholder education can help experts identify and quickly mitigate disease risks before a community is impacted. VDCI has the experience, necessary equipment, industry-leading technologies, and capabilities to handle all of your mosquito surveillance and disease monitoring needs.

Contact Our Experts​

Contact, or call, our experts at 866.977.6964 so that they can help you develop a custom IMM program to meet your community’s needs.

VDCI_Logo_squareSince 1992, Vector Disease Control International (VDCI) has taken pride in providing municipalities, mosquito abatement districts, industrial sites, planned communities, homeowners associations, and golf courses with the tools they need to run effective mosquito control programs. We are determined to protect the public health of the communities in which we operate. Our mosquito control professionals have over 100 years of combined experience in the field of public health, specifically vector disease control. We strive to provide the most effective and scientifically sound mosquito surveillance and control programs possible based on an Integrated Mosquito Management approach recommended by the American Mosquito Control Association (AMCA) and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). VDCI is the only company in the country that can manage all aspects of an integrated mosquito management program, from surveillance to disease testing to aerial application in emergency situations.

Add Aerial Application Services to Your Existing Mosquito Management Program

Aerial Spraying Malcom 9

Add Aerial Application Services to Your Existing Mosquito Management Program

Mosquitoes are most effectively managed when a multitude of professional solutions and innovations are utilized to target the species. Personal protection efforts, public education, mosquito habitat reduction, and ground-based activities are highly impactful in the battle against mosquitoes. Over the last 20+ years, VDCI has helped reinforce these strategies by taking management to the skies. 

VDCI is a leading operator of advanced aerial fleets for adult and larval mosquito control around the country. Aerial applications of EPA-registered insecticides can provide more thorough protection across states, counties, and municipalities, particularly when the risk of vector-borne disease transmission is elevated. 

How can the public benefit from aerial mosquito control?

During warmer months, mosquitoes can be found nearly everywhere in our communities. And because they are capable of traveling many miles for a blood meal, it’s also beneficial to target mosquitoes where they thrive, such as swamps, wetlands, and thickets. Unfortunately, these areas can be hard to reach, environmentally protected, or dangerous for ground crews to navigate. 

Aerial product applications may be the only way to interrupt the mosquito breeding cycle in remote locations where populations are abnormally high or when roads and natural areas are inaccessible due to flooding, compromised infrastructure, or road closures. When conducted from above, monitoring and applications are typically more comprehensive, faster, and safer; ground crews in one Ultra-Low Volume (ULV) spray truck can treat approximately 1,000 acres per load – or potentially less following weather emergencies – while a single aircraft can treat 10,250 acres per load.

outside vdci aerial hanger - aerial mosquito control

VDCI Aerial Advantage

When designing a management approach, professionals take into account many factors beyond the size and type of area being treated. The process begins with surveillance of the local mosquito species and their populations, patterns, peak activity, and susceptibility to certain types of management styles. VDCI supports the best practices of mosquito abatement districts by helping target mosquitoes at every phase of their lifecycle. This means using specified adulticide and larvicide applications at distinct rates and times of year and with the equipment that’s best suited for the job. 

VDCI is the only company nationwide that operates a diverse, in-house fleet of drones and aircraft that are exclusively dedicated to mosquito control:

Fixed-wing aircraft:​

Aerial Spraying Malcom 9
  • Capable of treating up to 50,000 acres per aircraft, per night
  • Integrated systems ensure uniform spray cloud density
  • Swift emergency response tool following hurricanes or severe flood events

Professional drone technology:​

SOL_VDCI_Day1_finals_2185_468
  • Capable of applying up to 200 acres of product per session
  • Pre-programmed flight routes with superior GPS navigation 
  • Highly maneuverable and unobtrusive in residential areas

VDCI’s advanced aerial equipment is operated exclusively by licensed aerial pesticide applicators who are authorized through the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). All professionals specialize in maintenance procedures, airspace regulations, and coordination with local aviation agencies. Together, these professionals boast a combined 50,000+ hours of experience.

We Are Here For Your Every Need

Whether you are experiencing routine mosquito problems or an unforeseen circumstance, VDCI’s vector control scientists are well equipped to safely mitigate the challenges in your area. Our expertise, technology, and reporting capabilities are an asset to any program in need of aerial application services.

Aerial Mosquito Management: Timing Control Efforts

Aerial Mosquito Management: Timing Control

Written By Robbie Allen, Aviation Science

For districts, counties, or municipalities, it can feel that when the mosquito season starts, the clock also starts. It won’t be long before residents begin to contact local leaders to help reduce mosquito populations in their communities. If a threat becomes too great, often aerial applications are conducted. The Mission: To reduce large nuisance populations and kill as many mosquitoes that could carry vector-borne diseases as possible. Timing during this mission is a top concern.

vdci aerial services plane scenic spraying treatment mosquito control vector managementWhether larviciding or adulticiding, timing in Aerial Mosquito Control is an extremely critical component. Knowing the amount of time that is required to go through all the protocols, preflight the aircraft, and be able to hit the “spray on” switch at the exact specified time, to ensure a successful mission, can sometimes present its challenges – but must be accomplished.

Adulticing: On Time and On Target

Before an aerial operation can take place, there are significant factors that must coincide with timing. We have outlined a short list of protocols that must be followed while conducting an aerial adulticide mission.

Who, What, Where, When?

Culex_tarsalis_p_2Western_Encephalitis_Mosquito_250x166.jpgFirst, we need to determine what species we are trying to control. Different species of mosquitoes have different flight patterns and peak activity. Culex pipiens prefer to feed up to 2 hours after sunset compared to Cx. tarsalis (shown in image) who will only feed for up to 1 hour after sunset. Exact application time to target specific species is crucial. VDCI recommends the use of rotator traps to determine exact flight times of targeted species in a given area. Forethought on behalf of the beneficial insects needs to be considered as well. Next, a detailed map should be utilized to review the exact location that the application is desired. Then, both parties should review what product is being considered for application. Once the product is determined, aerial applicators will revisit their flight plan to ensure the mission dispenses the correct amount of chemical out of the aircraft as not to exceed the time allotment. Throughout the entire process, the mosquito control team should answer all questions, address all concerns, and maintain clear communication with the customer.

Contact Local Law Enforcement

Many application areas will require coordination with local law enforcement. When mosquito control aircraft fly over populated areas at 300 ft, the low flight path can generate additional phone calls into the police dispatch centers. Providing the local centers with advanced knowledge of a scheduled flight can help ease concerns of residents.

Contact Local Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Control Towers and Controlling Agencies

Communication with local aviation agencies is a very important aspect as well. Typically, a mission over congested areas also includes flying within FAA controlled airspace. Proper coordination prevents two aircraft from occupying the same airspace at the same time.

File a Notice to Airmen or NOTAM with the FAA

Filing an NOTAM will allow another pilot in the area, that may not be in contact with a control tower, to be aware of the area and altitude that local mosquito control will be conducting operations.

Weather Factors

washington-tri-cities-to-OR_kevinclare -250x166.jpg

 Anything from temperature inversions to gusty conditions must be factored into the timing of an application. Temperature inversions are common at night and seem to be most prominent right after sunset. Depending on the inversion level, it may require an altitude adjustment of the aircraft. Wind conditions and the tracking of storms must also be given attention. Will we be able to get the product out and to the target site before the wind increases or a thunderstorm starts? Or should we wait? Understanding the environmental conditions of an area is an important part of completing a successful mission.

Larviciding: Best Conditions, Best Results

Larvicidng, when compared to adulticiding, can offer applicators a little more breathing room throughout a mission. Instead of windows delegated by hours, an aerial applicator can have a few days. Even in the hottest days of summer, a successful mission can be spread over as many as 3 days to get the pesticide to the larvae and achieve desired results. This provides mosquito control pilots with more opportunities to make a precise application under the best conditions.

Robbie_Allen_VDCI_2016-150x181.jpgRobbie Allen is a pilot for Vector Disease Control International (VDCI). Robbie majored in Aviation Science while attending Utah Valley University located in Provo, Utah. He started his career learning to fly in the mountains of Colorado. To date, he has logged more than 5,000 hours piloting various types of aircraft. Robbie has obtained his Airline Transport Pilot rating, which is one of the highest certificates issued by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). He can be reached through the VDCI website or by calling 800.413.4445.

VDCI_Logo_squareSince 1992, Vector Disease Control International (VDCI) has take pride in providing municipalities, mosquito abatement districts, military bases, industrial sites, planned communities, homeowners associations, and golf courses with the tools they need to run effective Integrated Tick and Mosquito Management programs. We are determined to protect the public health of the communities in which we operate. Our tick and mosquito management professionals have over 100 years of combined experience in the field of public health, specifically vector disease control. We strive to provide the most effective and scientifically sound mosquito surveillance and control programs possible based on an Integrated Mosquito Management (IMM) approach recommended by the American Mosquito Control Association (AMCA) and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). VDCI is the only company in the country that can manage all aspects of an Integrated Tick and Mosquito Management program, from surveillance to disease testing to aerial applications in emergency response situations.

Aerial Application Services for Effective Mosquito Management

Written By VDCI Team

Awareness of aerial application has increased this summer with the threat of Zika virus and an elevated risk of West Nile virus transmission throughout many parts of the country. Aerial applications can be an important component of an integrated mosquito management (IMM) program and are most often performed when the risk of vector-borne disease transmission is elevated. As municipalities and mosquito abatement districts gain a better understanding of the specific disease risks in their communities, our team continues to stay on the cutting edge of technology, utilizing fixed wing or rotary wing aircraft for each specific job to effectively target larval and adult mosquitoes.

eNews_aerial_applications_September_2016.jpgAs the owner of the largest fleet of aircraft in the world dedicated specifically to mosquito control, VDCI has been on the front lines combatting both West Nile Virus and Zika all summer. Each contract that we serve has unique needs and our team considers several factors before conducting an aerial application, including the species of the mosquito, the need for larval and/or adult mosquito control, the size and type of area to be treated, and whether the use of an airplane (fixed wing) or helicopter (rotary wing) is optimal.
Continue reading

Anatomy of an Aerial Mosquito Application

Anatomy of an Aerial Mosquito Application

Written by: Malcom Williams

VDCI_Aerial_Mosquito_Management_Application_SunsetVector Disease Control International (VDCI) is proud to own the largest fleet of aircraft in the world dedicated specifically to mosquito management. Aerial applications can be an important component of an integrated mosquito management (IMM) program. Current events, such as the threat of Zika virus (2016), multiple positive West Nile mosquito traps reported, and natural disasters where severe flooding occurs, have created awareness about mosquito habitats that can sometimes be difficult or too large to treat on the ground. 

Therefore, having the ability to utilize aircraft can be an effective complement to ground-based activities. Aerial applications may be the only way to break the mosquito breeding cycle in emergency response situations or when mosquito populations are abnormally high.

6 Steps Required To Conduct Aerial Mosquito Control

Conducting these missions for municipalitiesmosquito abatement districts, military bases, and several other communities where residential properties must be considered, is a highly scientific and advanced process. We will discuss some of the steps required to conduct an aerial application for the control of mosquitoes.

1. Determine the Target Species

Like other aspects of an IMM program, aerial application must be justified by surveillance of mosquito populations. Surveillance allows us to understand not only the number of mosquitoes present but also the distribution of species in a given area. Culex mosquitoes fly at certain times of night (depending on the geography, temperature, and daylight) and are susceptible to certain types of products. An Anopheles mosquito can behave quite differently and might require a different product or application rate. Therefore, knowing the target species allows the manager and applicator to understand which product should be used, at what rate it should be applied, and during what time the application should be made.

2. Low-Level Waiver, Congested Area Plan, and Regulatory Thresholds

Micronairs_Aerial_Mosquito_Management_Spray_Equipment.jpgBefore an aerial mosquito management mission can begin, the applicator must receive a low-level waiver from the FAA and a Congested Area Plan must be approved for the actual location of the impending aerial application. The FAA prohibits flying over congested areas at low altitudes and aerial mosquito management missions are typically performed at 300 feet above the ground. An applicator must also be sure that National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit thresholds have been met in order to justify an aerial application. The most common method to meet such thresholds is simply surveillance using standard trapping techniques. If indeed those thresholds have been met, the public must be notified of the upcoming aerial application. Finally, pilots file a Notice to Airmen (NOTAM). This filing alerts other pilots about the presence of a low-flying aircraft and helps ensure the safety of the application crew.

3. Calibration of Spray Equipment

Calibrating the aircraft’s spray equipment is the law as well as essential for a safe and effective application. Calibration ensures proper flow rates and the application of product to the target area. In addition to flow rates, the second component of calibration is ensuring the correct droplet size. Droplets that are too large will fall to the ground and not kill any mosquitoes, while droplets that are too small will either float away or not harm the mosquito (and perhaps even foster resistance). So it is imperative to have just the right size droplet.  Below lists the three most critical pieces of equipment, related to calibration and accurate product deposition, that should be checked prior to each application.

AIMMS Unit: A weather probe that takes real-time weather data and feeds it to the aircraft’s GPS unit, thereby automatically directing the pilot where to fly to ensure a successful application

Micronairs: Rotary atomizer that ensures the proper droplet size is being produced

GPS Unit: Critical to telling pilots where to fly to apply product in the targeted application zone

4. Pre Fly the Application Zone

Aerial application is performed at night when mosquitoes are flying. Unfortunately, flying at low altitudes at night can be dangerous if the proper precautions are not taken. During the daytime, each crew should fly the application zone, noting any potential obstacles and recording them in the aircraft’s GPS unit. In the event that these obstacles are not properly lighted, the GPS unit will alert the crew of the presence of the obstacle during the application mission.

5. Conduct the Mission

Aerial_Mosquito_Spraying_Two_Planes.jpgAfter all of the above has been completed, an aerial mosquito management mission can commence. The aircraft is loaded with the product to be used and the crew performs the application.

6. Download GPS Data and Produce Application Maps

Once the spray system has been rinsed, and the aircraft inspected after the mission, the crew should download the GPS data and send it to a GIS professional. Once the GIS professional receives the information, an application map is produced and delivered to the manager of the Integrated Mosquito Management program.

The aerial application can be a critical component of an IMM program, particularly when disease transmission has been identified as a risk to public health. Many, many steps must be taken before an airplane is in the air conducting the application. Preparation, technology, and a skilled pilot are all critical to ensuring a safe and effective aerial mosquito management mission.

Malcom_Williams_bio_photos_1_12.2015-1.jpgMalcom Williams is leader in the world of aerial mosquito management. He started flying planes as a teenager in the early 1970s and began conducting flights for mosquito control in 1987. Malcom become Chief Pilot for VDCI in 2004 – and has accumulated over 14,000 hours of aerial mosquito management missions. During his time on land, Malcom has designed and built eight of the spray planes used by VDCI. He is licensed to conduct public health vector control and is extremely familiar with FAA congested area plans.